Reds Prospect Rhett Lowder Is a Chameleon on the Mound

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Rhett Lowder has yet to pitch in a professional game, but already he ranks not only as the top pitching prospect in the Reds system, but also as the no. 44 player on our Top 100 list. Remarkably, that’s not all that surprising. Selected seventh overall by the Reds out of Wake Forest University, the 21-year-old right-hander will make his pro debut on the heels of a spectacular junior campaign that saw him go 15-0 with a 1.87 ERA and a school record 142 strikeouts. The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year for the second straight season — he’d gone 11-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 2022 — Lowder seems a lock to pitch in the middle of a big league rotation. Moreover, his arrival in Cincinnati should come in the not-too-distant future.

In terms of style, the native North Carolinian might best be described as a technician with multiple above-average offerings. Lowder’s repertoire comprises two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider, and a changeup, and he augments that arsenal with plus command and a feel for his craft that belies his level of experience. Mixing and matching is one of his strong suits, giving him an opportunity to navigate lineups deep into games.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite ice breakers: Do you view pitching as more of an art, or more of a science?

Rhett Lowder: “A little bit of both. In the offseason you can probably get into more of the science side of it, breaking yourself down. But during the season it’s more of an art; there are a bunch of different ways to to get the job done. Plus, everybody is unique. There is no cookie-cutter way to get outs.”

Laurila: Some of what I’ve read about you suggests craftsman, but are you actually more of a power guy?

Lowder: “I think it just really depends on the game. One of my stronger suits is that I can adjust based on the opponent, and on some days you have more overpowering stuff than you do on others. I can kind of be like a chameleon and change based on the environment and the game I’m in. I’m not necessarily the same exact guy every single time I go out there.

“There are some things I fall back on more times than not when I get into trouble, but going into most games, it really just depends on the [opponent]. I try to overlay my strengths over the other team’s weaknesses and kind of see where that leads me. I try to be able to adapt as quickly as possible.”

Laurila: Do you consider yourself a pitching nerd?

Lowder; “I would say so. I’ve studied a lot. I mean, we have so many resources, like the pitching lab and all that. So yeah, could probably call me a nerd, given all of the stuff I’ve been exposed to.”

Laurila: What have you learned in the pitching lab?

Lowder: “A lot. I came in knowing nothing about TrackMan metrics, so I kind of started from the ground floor. I basically had to learn what everything meant, and from there get a better grasp of my stuff. I’ve gone through different phases in terms of valuing the importance of some of it.

“It’s been interesting to go through that journey, yet kind of always falling back to… I mean, when I’m at my best, I’m not thinking about that stuff — certainly not in games. But again, the offseason is different. I’m trying to get to certain metrics in order to put myself in a great position to start the year. Then, if I deviate from that too much I kind of know where I need to get back to.”

Laurila: Can you elaborate on valuing the importance of some of it?

Lowder: “It’s more so me kind of realizing that one thing comes from another thing. Basically, you don’t put as much weight into one single metric as you do another. I feel like the baseball community has been evolving in prioritizing different metrics. For a while it was straight up induced vertical break — that was the biggest thing — and now it’s starting to get more into the approach angles. I think that as the baseball world evolves with technology, you kind of see what’s important and what’s not. I’ve kind of followed that path. For me, it’s not ‘I don’t think this is important,’ but more so ‘This happens because of this.’”

Laurila: That said, do you have a specific pitch where movement is the most important thing, as opposed to a pitch where location is most important?

Lowder: “My changeup is a pitch where I look more at the movement, because I think I get more swing-and-miss in different spots with that one. My other pitches… with my slider, the thing I prioritize most is philosophy. The shape isn’t as important to me as long as it’s hard. And then, with the fastball, pure command is what I care about.”

Laurila: How does your changeup profile in terms of movement and velocity? Is it what could be defined as a power changeup?

Lowder: “It can be. When I’m juiced up it’s pretty firm. It can get up to 89 [mph] at times, but it’s usually around 86-87. The movement profile… I have a pretty good idea of the vertical break, but I wouldn’t want you to quote me on the numbers because I’m not 100% positive. I’ll just say that it could be considered a harder changeup, but with still a big shape to it.”

Laurila: You throw both two- and a four-seam fastballs, correct?

Lowder: Yes, a sinker and a four-seamer. With the four, I probably get a lot of horizontal compared to the average person, but it’s still a pretty efficient fastball for my slot. It will run, but it has some lift to it from the lower slot; I’m three-quarters to maybe low three-quarters.

“Compared to my sinker, I try to get eight to 10 inches of difference with the induced vert. And then my sinker will have about an eight-inch difference from my changeup. If I’m hovering around that zero mark — or one/two — on my changeup, I like every sinker to be sub-10. In some games, it will run more than my changeup; it will be nearing the 20 horizontal mark on average. The velocity will probably be five mph more.”

Laurila: You said that you get horizontal movement on your four-seamer. Is that cut?

Lowder: “No. My fastball doesn’t cut. My slider is my only pitch that, if you look at a movement plot, is less than the zero line. It’s a harder gyro. It’s something I kind of changed mid last year. At the beginning of last year I was trying to decide if I wanted to throw a sweeper — or what it should be — and once I really got sold on velocity I just started throwing it harder. It’s kind of a depth-y gyroball. There’s always that fine line, but I think we’re starting to realize that velocity on breaking balls plays pretty well.”

Laurila: Changing direction a bit, I’ve read that the way you finish is a little unconventional. How so?

Lowder; “It’s something that’s always been.. like, when I was in high school getting recruited, people hadn’t really seen it before. The way I land, my front foot, my left foot… my toe is open. That’s because I have extreme external rotation in my hips. I kind of walk around a little duck-footed. My toes are always pointed out.

“When I got to campus as a freshman, it was like, ‘All right, let’s look at this and see if we can fix it.’ But it always crept back, because that felt straight to me. And if I did land straight, it felt super closed and actually did more harm than good. I didn’t have a problem commanding the baseball — I was moving pretty efficiently with it — so we decided not to fight it. Instead, we embraced how everybody moves uniquely. That’s what’s so cool about this game.”

Laurila: Do you have deception in your delivery?

Lowder: “You’d have to ask a hitter that and hear what he thinks, but it definitely looks a little bit funky compared to some other guys. That could probably play in my favor. But I’ve never really thought much about it. It’s just what feels normal to me, and something that I can repeat.”

Laurila: What are your thoughts on three times through the order, and on a related subject, innings workloads?

Lowder: “That’s something I really prided myself on throughout college: finding a way to dissect lineups multiple times through the order. I threw around 300 innings, so I went deep into most games throughout my career at Wake Forest. I had some pretty good experience compared to what you typically see nowadays — there aren’t a lot of high-inning seasons anymore — and that’s what you want as a starter.

“Like I was saying earlier, I’m able to adjust on the fly, which helps me get through the order multiple times. You see some pitchers get in trouble when they almost stick to their game plan too much. But that’s another part of the game I love. There are a thousand different ways to do it. Some guys can adjust on the fly, and then there are guys who just pure overpower their whole way through, no matter how many times they see guys.”

Laurila: How much do you rely on scouting reports?

Lowder: “I kind of game plan for first time through the order, attacking their weaknesses, but as I said earlier, I’m overlaying that with my strengths. I’m not going to try to do something that’s a low percentage for me, even though it might be a hole for them. But I will attack weaknesses, and depending on how that first at-bat goes… I mean, that’s where you have to read the game a little bit. Read swings. These hitters are so good — especially at the highest level — that if you show them the same pitch too many times, no matter how good it is, they’ll usually make an adjustment. It’s what they get paid to do. You have to keep a game log in the back of your head of what you showed them, and when you showed it to them.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Lowder: “Man, there are so many things we could talk about. I guess what separates me — we kind of touched on it here at the end — is that what I really value is finding different ways to just win the game. Getting deep in the game is a big part of that. Navigating through lineups is honestly what I care about the most. It’s what I value the most. It’s so fun.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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itrainesitpoursmember
3 months ago

Rhett 200 Innings or Bust Lowder. Great interview! Guy sounds like he’s a total gamer.